Monday, June 11, 2012

Does God Think Corporations are People?

One of the big theoretical questions in business ethics is the metaphysical status of corporations. They make decisions, they have assets, they exist as things...but what kind of things. On the one hand, is the view that a corporation is just shorthand for the people who make it up. On this view the corporation itself is not morally responsible for anything, just the people inside of it. On the other hand are those who argue that the corporation is more than the sum of its parts, that a corporate board, for example, is capable of making a decision that none of its members individually agree with if it was a necessary decision that required consensus. As such, it is not just the members of the corporation that are morally responsible, but the entity itself as well.

Years ago, I realized that this discussion is in deep ways similar to another one that philosophers of biology were having about the metaphysical status of species. We say that individuals do not evolve, species evolve. Does that mean that the species is more than the organisms classified under it? But it is the organisms that have the genome and the anatomical properties. It is the organisms that interact with the environment. What are we talking about, we we speak at the species level?

A few weeks ago a Gettysburg grad with whom I've been corresponding because of Einstein's Jewish Science, sent me a play he's been working on wherein God has to explain his acts to a board of inquiry. We get to the discussion of the Flood and suddenly these two cases seemed to come together. God saves animals, including humans, by saving the species. By having Noah collect breeding pairs of each species, the animals are saved. Hence it is not the individuals, but the species that seem to have value. The same seems to hold for moral considerability. A group of men rape an angel in Sodom and boom, the whole city is condemned as morally unsustainable. We hold the corporate body responsible for the action. When Job is rewarded for remaining faithful, he is compensated for the death of his children by getting ten times that number in new kids. Kids, on this view, work like currency. It doesn't matter that the one dollar bill you had was shredded, here's a nice new ten dollar bill, so you have that dollar back plus nine more.

So, it seems that there is textual evidence that God considers the whole to be as -- if not more -- real than the individual. So, would that mean that the view that corporations are people has theological sanction? Do they have souls? When Enron or Bear Stearns ceased to be, did their souls go to be judged? Are there failed companies in heaven and hell? Wouldn't there have to be, if we understand the stories of the Flood, Sodom, and Job?